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Craft Worker Shortage in US Construction Industry

Date: 26 March 2019

Although there is no shortage of construction projects, the shortage of skilled craft workers has left contractors scrambling to come up with ways to attract the ever-shrinking talent pool.

Dodge Data & Analytics’ 2019 Dodge Construction Outlook[1] forecasted that the total amount of U.S. construction projects starting in 2019 will amount to $808 billion. This amount of work will put even more pressure on construction firms to attract and retain craft workers.

In a survey[2] conducted by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a whopping 80 percent of construction firms reported that they are struggling to fill the hourly craft positions that represent the majority of the construction workforce.

The construction industry’s labor challenges have given rise to off-site construction, also known as prefabricated or modular construction, which can dramatically reduce the duration of a project. Construction firms also rely on technology, such as building information modeling (BIM), to realize greater efficiencies.

Unfortunately, the measures construction firms have taken don’t bridge the gap in skilled craft workers. Almost half of AGC’s 2,500 survey respondents reported that the labor shortage has caused them to bid higher and 44 percent report that already-underway projects cost more because of labor shortages. Forty-six percent indicated project completion takes longer than originally scheduled. Twenty-seven percent reported they are putting in longer completion times into their bids because of the skilled labor shortage.

“You would be hard pressed to find a contractor across any construction market that does not suffer from a lack of skilled craft,” said William Shephard, Head of Heavy Civil at LVI Associates.The concerning thing is that most of these companies are unsure of effective strategies to combat the issue. In fact, most of them seem to think the problem will get worse before it gets better.”

Construction firms have been offering higher wages, better benefits including healthcare, and time off to attract and retain craft workers. For the construction industry, the big challenges are attracting the next generation of workers and exploring untapped resources such as women. There are educational campaigns underway to attract young people. Right now there aren’t enough workers going into the trades to replace the current workforce which will only exacerbate construction firms’ challenges.

As demand continues to outstrip the supply, skilled craft workers will find themselves on lucrative career paths. Top management at construction firms will also be challenged to create innovative recruitment and retention strategies.

“We help our clients attract leaders who understand what motivates skilled crafts workers,” said Shephard. “We can also recommend and source supervisory candidates who bring skilled crafts crews with them because of their strong leadership.”

The U.S. construction industry’s labor woes are not going to be resolved any time soon. For now, construction firms will have to rely on strong management teams who know how to make the most of scarce resources.



[1] https://www.construction.com/news/new-construction-starts-2019-steady-with-2018-dodge-data-analytics-oct-2018

[2] https://www.agc.org/news/2018/08/29/eighty-percent-contractors-report-difficulty-finding-qualified-craft-workers-hire